The Cree Task Force on Residential Schools, which issued its final report last fall, emphasized the need for Crees to deal with the continuing effects of residential schools. It came as no surprise that Crees, and indeed any First Nations peoples in Canada, must face the pain of the past. The task force, however, says the healing must be led by individual communities with help from a regional entity and coordinators.
According to Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees, this central recommendation was developed because “that’s where the victims are and the kind of support that they needed such as Elders and healing circles.”
The task force recommends that healing circles be formed. Parenting programs should focus on Cree traditional education to provide holistic preparation for life. It is very important to bring back traditional ways of education. One would assume this would involve Elders. The task force also wants to bring non-traditional methods into the fight to negate the effects of residential schools. As part of healing, it was recommended that the Cree School Board retain the services of a writer to document a complete history on the residential schools and the negative impacts it has had on the Cree Nation. This information would then be incorporated into the CSB curriculum.
It would extend into home life as well. In order to help the youth have a better understanding of the effects of the residential school system, the Cree Nation must develop a comprehensive public education program. The parents must take the initiative to tell their children about the residential school system and what happened in those years as well.
Each community should find and hire healers, psychologists, social workers and other healthcare workers who are trained and experienced in dealing with post-traumatic stresses and disorders stemming from residential schools. The task force saw a need for trauma action programs to be developed immediately to help the youth.
It was recommended that the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay install a toll free crisis line to assist those survivors who need and seek professional counselling services.
“The Grand Council stands ready and willing to lead a legal and political effort where we think our strengths are the greatest,” Namagoose said. “The healing part of residential schools should be at a local level where they have more expertise. We don’t want anyone to wait for the Grand Council before finding ways to get healing.”
Part of the political fight would probably include the recommendations that the federal government take full responsibility for the abuses that took place at residential schools. The task force said the government should make every effort to repair the damage done, including financial help in healing. One thing that may be more difficult to achieve is the demand for personal apologies from the federal government to each survivor of residential schools.
All the programs the task force is recommending will take a considerable amount of money. This may prove to be an easier task for the Grand Council given the new emphasis the government seems to be placing on settling residential school claims.
The Cree Task Force was advised that although there are many successes in the communities, there are still many dysfunctional families. The task force recommended that the Cree leadership make efforts to deal with the social problems that exist in the communities, immediately. In order to continue with the work at the community level, in areas of research and documentation, a regional coordinator and local coordinators for residential schools should be retained.
Finally, the task force said former students of residential schools who wish to pursue litigation on claims should file as a group, not as individuals. This may have been in reference to past years when individual claimants would settle out of court rather than going to the end of the legal process and creating a precedent.